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Backdraft: Can Felipe fight the Ferrari flames?

The Brazilian racing community breathed a collective sigh of relief this week, as the news spread that Felipe Massa’s Ferrari contract had been renewed. To say this was expected would be somewhat off the mark, I doubt many people at home or in the paddock would have thought Felipe would be driving a Ferrari in 2013, but there he will be.

The contract was the sweetener. It will now be Felipe’s job to be Fernando Alonso’s bitch for the next four races, how willing do you suppose the Brazilian would have been to do that if he was out of F1 at the end of the season? They must think we’re stupid – or at least Felipe is.

The first port of call? Drafting. Using another cars slipstream to pull yours down a straight, allowing you to find extra speed when you finally peek out and throw the nose into the corner. We’ve seen them do it before, Felipe sacrificing his own qualifying laps to drag an extra couple of thousanths out of Fernando’s, and it didn’t work… again. Today Fernando starts in fifth with his team-mate beside him, which can only mean that Felipe is incredibly fast or Fernando has lost control of that prancing pony. The purpose of this tactic is obvious, but the fact it hasn’t worked at all makes me wonder if Fernando has enough to take it to Sebastian, and Felipe can’t hold his hand all the way through.

I feel for Felipe, he’s a racer at heart and I wonder if the only reason he’s agreed to stay at Ferrari is because without them he wouldn’t be in Formula One at all. Is it the lesser of the evils? To be the epitome of the number two driver, meek and eager to assist, handing over potential wins to a team-mate who isn’t faster on that occasion? It seems to be a Brazilian’s fate at Ferrari, Barrichello’s tears are still as fresh in my mind as they were the day they were shed.

Felipe’s future won’t be an unexpected disappointment, he will know his role now and with have agreed to it when he signed the contract.

I hope it won’t make him bitter.

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British Bernie announces the Poundland Grand Prix!

I wasn’t planning on blogging today, but as I sat here, watching Martin Brundle interview Bernie Ecclestone, I felt I needed to say something, anything, about the future of Formula One in Europe.

Let’s take a trip in our Delorian, back to a time before KERS, F-Ducts, sponsorship and safety belts, to the Racing world of the 1920’s and 30’s. Prior to the existence of Formula One, the European Grand Prix motor racing scene reined supreme with the best drivers of continental Europe fighting it out around hay baled circuits in shirtsleeves and scarfes. Formula One kicked off in 1947, with the emergence of the FIA, and so the World Championship was born in 1950.

So what’s gone wrong? Does Formula One no longer care about Europe? Of course not! The problem is the lining of Mr Ecclestone’s pocket.

Bernie contemplates the number of zero’s culminating at the end of his bank account balance…

It has been said, that the only language Bernie Ecclestone truly understands is that of money. Since he rose to control Formula One’s business interests there have been several questionable moves, which have no reasonable bearing to the continued enjoyment of your average armchair-driving fan. Back in 1997, the rights to broadcasting race weekends in the UK were sold to ITV, a lucrative deal financially speaking, which left fans dismayed to say the least as they struggled to watch races interrupted by commercial breaks. They shipped Murray Walker across to the ITV commentary box, but it took more than a familiar voice to convince us it was worth the pay cheque.

There have been the regular problems with the holding of the British Grand Prix, in particular in 2004 when Bernie suggested the race be dropped all together! Cue the ensuing battle between Silverstone and Donington Park to become the race’s home. In the aftermath of this, Donington’s money ran out and to this day, the infield looks more like a quarry, while Silverstone has upped it’s game, but still struggled to gain Bernie’s favour as the rain came down in July 2012.

There have been disputes over tyres, sponsorship rows and lest we forget the ongoing problem with Bahrain.. Bernie seems to be intent on taking the Formula One world to more out-reaching parts of the planet, parts where the locals have to be cajoled into attending races, while Silverstone sells out in the space of a couple of months. Why would it be profitable to take the sport away from the people who love it? As a resident of the UK, I have had the opportunity to visit two Grands Prix; Monaco in 2011 as part of a family holiday, and Silverstone in 2012 (yes I got wet, no I didn’t mind a bit) it took me the better part of fifteen years to get to my first race and I’m planning a trip to Belgium in 2014. What if Spa disappeared before I got there? We’ve already lost Magny Cours, and Paul Ricard doesn’t get a look in despite it’s constant reminders that it’s capable of holding an event.

In the interview on Sky Sports F1 this morning  Bernie said that the confirmed 2013 line up of seven European races could drop to as low as four. I can count Hungary as one of the victims of this cull, as the Eastern European circuit has suffered from poor attendances, and struggled to keep the track in condition. Who else could go? Valencia only really stood in as a replacement for the European Grand Prix at the Nurbergring, and that’s gone anyway, with Monaco and Singapore we didn’t really need another street circuit.

We’ll keep trying to move forward. We’re a world championship.

The question for me is would he chop the British Grand Prix? Would he be that callous, to the people who share his nationality? Westernised as we are in this country, we can’t all hop down to Heathrow and head out to the long haul races. Flicking through the pages of F1 Racing Magazine, you can see how cheap it is to purchase a weekend ticket for places like India, South Korea and Malaysia, but we can’t get there, we want our race, in Oxford so all we have to do is drive seventy miles down the M1 and pitch a damn tent!

So I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. Bernie has proved in the past, that what’s best for Formula One always coincides with what’s best for Bernie. We’re set to have two races in America, when the New Jersey Grand Prix finally confirms its place on the calendar, two races in a country in which the majority of sports fans love football, basketball and baseball. Yes, some of them like motorsport, Nascar has massive viewing figures, but those figures are arbitrary as far as Bernie is concerned because Nascar is favoured in the Southern States of America, areas which dwarf the whole of the UK, population terms – there is no percentage comparison.

I apologise to anyone who feels like they’re losing out by not having Formula One within their travelling range, but I have put too much time, effort, and emotion into this sport to see the only races I can realistically visit be taken away. Bernie doesn’t deserve to call himself British if he dares scratch our race from the calendar.


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By an eyebrow…

Is it just me, or is the thought of that finger, raised aloft in celebration of yet another championship  victory, a difficult image to swallow this season? Sebastian Vettel, all but written off at the beginning of the season, seems to have once again cemented the yellow nose of his Red Bull Renault to the front of the grid. The Formula One boomerang swooped back into contention, lodging itself right between the eyebrows of Championship leader Fernando Alonso.

Today’s Fernando Alonso is not the man he once was. Sure, he’s competitive and focussed, but gone are the hissy fits of the McLaren era, the accusations, the petulance.  Happy at a Ferrari team who finally seem to have finally got over the loss of Michael Schumacher (no offence Kimi), he sits at the head of a family, each member with the Spaniard’s happiness at the forefront of their minds. Within his cocoon he has flourished in a terrible car, the measure of the man is evident, Fernando continues to go from strength to strength. Even (at last) Felipe is benefiting from the atmosphere, his performances are improving, and so will his confidence. Obviously this isn’t a coincidence, a happy team-mate is a helpful team-mate I would imagine…

Sebastian is also likeable, he’s boyish, strolling round in his baggy shorts and backpack. I hope he takes his ID around with him, because I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to ask for it if he was buying a pint! The issue seems to be that Formula One needs that little hiccup in Seb’s blueprint plans for World Driver Championship domination, even Michael Schumacher took a four year sabbatical after his back-to-back wins. Fans of Formula One were bored by 2011, win after win, the finger waved from podium after podium. DRS and Kers helped the guys behind battle it out, but once the number one RBR had shot round the first corner, the only thing left to do was read the word ‘Infinity’ from the back of the rear wing!

Fernando would make a great World Champion, it would breath life into Ferrari. It would prove to an army of Formula One fans that a great driver does not need the best equipment to succeed, because a true racing legend could win in a shopping trolley! Sebastian has the best equipment, despite the updates only really shining in the second half of the season, and once again he’s trying to run off into the sunset.

May the best man win, but let him prove his worth, not coast in without breaking a sweat.


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The Fall Guy (mini blog)

If I was Pastor Maldonado, I’d be spending the break between Korea and India in deep talks with Romain Grosjean, finding out what spectacularly expensive Christmas present he’d like.

Let’s be fair, Romain has done Pastor an enormous favour; becoming the new ‘love to hate‘ driver on the grid.

Since Spa, the heat has been rising in the cockpit of the number ten Lotus, while Maldonado’s Williams has quietly slipped back into the pack, even scoring a well deserved second spot on the grid in Singapore. Everyone seems to have forgotten about his bristling collection of misjudgments  while the paddock stamps it’s collective feet about a cartwheeling E20.

However much the Williams press team might have wanted to breath a sigh of relief at the idea of Pastor spending a week or two out of the headlines, he was off again. This time chatting with reporters about how he may not be keeping his seat, not a week later, at the Korean Grand Prix driver press conference, he was letting them know that he’d love to stay. Make your blooming mind up!

I’m one of Pastor’s greatest critics, in the past I have labelled him a dangerous, pay-to-race driver, with a hot head and a penchant for dicey moved he lacked the talent to pull off. If you’re asking me has this opinion changed? My answer is not yet. Let’s see what he can do for the rest of the season, then we’ll decide.


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Schumi the way to go home.

It’s been a difficult seventeen years onboard the Michael Schumacher rollercoaster. From deviously  evil genius, to laid back mellowed out grandfather of the grid, he’s been one of the constants in my Formula One lifetime and, in a turnabout to my previous opinions, I’m going to be sorry to see him go.

My formula one watching career is only surpassed by Michael’s driving, I joined the television circus in the summer of 1995, I was fourteen.

My first memories of Michael are of arrogance, aggressive self belief to the point of narcissism. He was hard faced, he didn’t care about anyone except himself, both on the track and off it. He strutted about the paddock, exuding importance (unsurprising given that this was his second Championship clinching year) and I hated him.

Michael Schumacher celebrating with team principle Flavio Briatore
– Daily Telegraph

He became as sinister to me as childhood baddies, the man who would crash into his competitors to end a race on his terms. That meant he didn’t know if he could win surely? Was he as self assured as his gait suggested? I watched Damon Hill’s title year from the relative safety of behind a pillow, but that year he was safe, the Ferrari F310 was abismol, and the only real challenge came from Indy Car transfer student Jacques Villeneuve, who’s hopes ended on three wheels in the Suzuka gravel. Schumacher finished a lowly, yet thoroughly respectable (given the equipment) third.

Just as you thought it was safe to head out onto the racetrack however, he was at it again! The 1997 season saw Michael get back to his old tricks once more; as he battled Jacques Villeneuve for the title. This year was a little different to 1994, it was not Adelaide and the points weren’t stacked in his favour. With the eyes of the world watching him, he took a swipe at the Williams of Villeneuve around Estoril’s ‘Dry Sack’ corner. From behind my cushion (for the second year running) I slammed my eyes shut and waited for Murray to confirm my fears; that Jacques was out of the race. The opposite occurred, and karma seemed to have finally come back to haunt Michael, his wheel’s spinning uselessly against the gravel. He was beached, and deservedly so.

Over the years, Michael has won and won, over and over again, I was sick of him. Of course I know that if I had been a logical fan without the furious passion that thought he was a cheating scumbag things would have been completely different. He is a great of the sport, the Championships speak for themselves, and what he did with the late nineties, early noughties Ferraris was a feat only a few men could have performed. Think about this season, everyone’s praising Alonso for the way he handles his car, the 1997 F310 was a pig on wheels!

Cue the U-turn.

The Michael Schumacher of 2012 is modest, chilled out and ready to apologise when he makes a mistake. Since his return there hasn’t been one sniff of a win on the horizon, eeking out one podium in Valencia – despite me wishing it in 2011 at Canada.

The last two Grands Prix I have been to have filled me with a weird sensation when he’s driven past. I found myself feeling particularly honoured to be sitting beside the track while he drove past. I suddenly seem to appreciate him more, because to me he’s proved that there was a human being underneath all the controversy.

A calmer, happier, mellow Michael these days

Thanks Michael, it’s been an experience.


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Boo. Hiss. The F1 villain returns..

It’s been a while hasn’t it, since we had a true bad guy in Formula One? Of course recently we’ve had the the frustration of Maldonado and his every increasing tally of penalties, or Grosjean and his first lap drama in Spa. Incidents like this tend to unite the community, rather than divide it.

Enter Lewis Hamilton. Since the tender age of fourteen the McLaren wonder boy, hand raised by Ron Dennis into a world of fast cars, flashing bulbs and big deals. Since the departure of Heikki Kovalainen, and his replacement by 2009 World Champion; Jenson Button, the Woking outfit became a team all Brits could have faith in. On paper it was an incredible coup, two recent World Champions, a reliable car with a competent, world class team behind it? What could go wrong?

It has been four years since Lewis’s last lap charge around ‘that’ corner at Interlagos, while the Massa family jumped for joy in the Ferrari garage. What has he achieved? Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have taken the sport to it’s current point and Lewis appears to have achieved little to nothing to emulate his past successes.

It was without surprise then, when I was rudely woken by a noisy fiance at 6.00am, that I read the initial tweets about Lewis jumping ship to the ‘real’ Silver Arrows. So began the shocked comments, voiced dismay and eventual altercations in the aftermath of his 10.30am announcement.

- Getty Images

The problem with the Formula One fan community, is it thinks that they can make a difference. Sadly they’re wrong. This isn’t the Camp Nou, you can’t join the McLaren fan club with any hope of making the decisions. This sport is run by money and success, and the unhealthy, unpredictable relationship they share. Lewis Hamilton will not stay at McLaren just because a grandstand full of red cap wearing members of the public stamp their feet and pout. He is in this business for the wins and the pay cheque. At McLaren the winner’s champagne has gone flat, and the trophy’s – however many he can scrape out of the 2012 season, – will mean nothing if that ever elusive World Driver Championship win doesn’t come his way.

So what’s in it for him? Why not stay where he is? The money is the same, we all heard Martin Whitmarsh speak about an offer which matched Mercedes challenge. The car is good, both drivers are winning.. wait. Both drivers are winning? Ohhh.. yes, there’s a problem. Nothing like a competitive team mate to keep one of a driver’s eyes on his back. Fernando Alonso doesn’t have that problem, and look at how he’s slicing up the points. As McLaren have already proved with the nightmare pairing of Prost and Senna, two number ones isn’t really that great for business. Felipe Massa may well lose his saddle on that prancing horse, but you can damn well expect the next guy to be just as meek and helpful. Fernando will always be faster than you.

- David Ramos/AP via The Guardian

So Lewis will bounce Herr Schumacher out of Mercedes. It’s not a bad thing, the old boy’s seen better race days, and I’m sure he’d agree it’s time to drive an armchair. He can’t hurt anyone with one of those. Rosberg will make a much more suitable side-kick for Lewis, he know’s what it’s like to win, but unlike other first time winner Pastor Maldonado, hasn’t tarnished his reputation with a series of unprofessional faux pas. Nico has his head back down, working hard for his team. Lewis has worked with him before in GP2, and was practically overcome with happiness to see the German win. They’re friends already, but how long will that last?

Which brings me to the fans. I myself? I don’t give two hoots where he goes, along as he works hard and achieves. I am his fan as long as he ‘goes for the gap‘, as Ayrton Senna would say, and when he no longer tries, I will forget him as easily as I did Jacques Villeneuve. The fans seem to think otherwise, there is real-life anger and resentment at this choice. They believe him to have betrayed them, their team and their country! He’s signed for the Germans, my goodness, get the tins hats out, it’s bloody World War III! When the dust settles, and they realise that with Sergio Perez in a race winning car their Sundays are even more exciting, they won’t even remember this week.